The tragedy of extinction is explained through the dramatic story of a legendary bird, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and of those who tried to possess it, paint it, shoot it, sell it, and, in a last-ditch effort, save it. A powerful saga that sweeps through two hundred years of history, it introduces artists like John James Audubon, bird collectors like William Brewster, and finally a new breed of scientist in Cornell's Arthur A. "Doc" Allen and his young ornithology student, James Tanner, whose quest to save the Ivory-bill culminates in one of the first great conservation showdowns in U.S. history, an early round in what is now a worldwide effort to save species. As hope for the Ivory-bill fades in the United States, the bird is last spotted in Cuba in 1987, and Cuban scientists join in the race to save it.
All this, plus Mr. Hoose's wonderful story-telling skills, comes together to give us what David Allen Sibley, author of The Sibley Guide to Birds calls "the most thorough and readable account to date of the personalities, fashions, economics, and politics that combined to bring about the demise of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker."
The Race to Save the Lord God Bird is the winner of the 2005 Boston Globe - Horn Book Award for Nonfiction and the 2005 Bank Street - Flora Stieglitz Award.
Despite this chronicle's suspenseful title, this particular race seems to be over, and the Ivory-billed woodpecker (whose observers gasped, "Lord God!") appears to have lost. Those who raced to save the Ivory-bill and its Southern U.S. habitat, reports Hoose (We Were There, Too!), were neither as swift nor as wealthy as those who raced to shoot it and turn its preferred sweet-gum trees into lumber. Yet Hoose shares a compelling tale of a species' decline and, in the process, gives a history of ornithology, environmentalism and the U.S. With memorable anecdotes from naturalist writers, he tells how researchers such as John James Audubon shot Ivory-bills for study; later, binoculars, cameras and sound equipment changed scientific methods. Hoose also charts pre Endangered Species Act collecting, when people responded to a rare bird by killing and stuffing it. In 1924, a pair of Ivory-bills were spotted in Florida, but soon vanished; " had asked the county sheriff for a permit to hunt them." Further, Hoose explains how wars and the changing economy brought timber companies and the free labor of German POWs to devastate the Ivory-bills' virgin forests. In restrained language, he tells a tragic tale. His liveliest chapters concern James Tanner, the Ivory-bills' champion, who camped in swamps and climbed giant trees to document a few birds in the 1930s. "Can we get smart enough fast enough to save what remains of our biological heritage?" Hoose asks in conclusion. To him, the Ivory-bill represents no less than wilderness itself; readers will sense the urgency that remains, even if the Ivory-bill is gone. Ages 12-up.